Apr 282018
one reel

Batman interrupts Gorilla Grodd’s time-travel plot with the result that the gorilla, Batmaan, Robins 4, Alfred, Catwoman, Joker & Harley, and a bunch of other villains who get little screen time, are sent back to Japan. Batman shows up two years later than the rest. In that time the criminals have taken over with Joker as the lord of lords. The Robins have joined up with a ninja-bat cult. From then on it is punching, sword play, explosions, giant robots, and monkeys.

I assume the idea for this film came from a string of Batman of Shanghai shorts that were quite clever. How did they go so wrong? Batman Ninja is atrocious. It’s what you show someone if you want them to hate Batman, comics, superheroes, and anime. DC Animation had been having a rough patch but with the recent Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, things were looking up. And then this happened.

If you’d previously enjoyed any of these characters, then prepare yourself for moron Batman and his zingy, upbeat son Damian Wayne, and of course, Damian’s intelligent monkey friend. Yes, that’s “monkey friend.” Finally, Batman gets the Speed Racer treatment, but not on as mature a level. I was waiting from Damian to gleefully say how great the Mach 5 is. Instead he happily yelled about the spirit of the monkey.

The dialog made me wish for a silent film. Everyone speaks in puns, clichés, and info dumps. We are well passed embarrassing here. Everything the Joker or Harley say is annoying and anything Batman says, including his bizarre soliloquies, are too stupid to let invade your brain. You’d do better blasting any random heavy metal album—it’s not as if anything said will make the picture make sense—as then you might construct a fun music-video. Magic bats attack. Wooden fortresses combine to make a giant robot. Alfred has acted as a butler for two years—possibly for Catwoman—for no reason. The Penguin has somehow found penguins in Japan which he keeps around ice (no mention of where he got ice from). The Joker is a skilled samurai. A ninja bat cult has a submarine. The Batmobile works without fuel. Monkeys leap on each others shoulders to form a super monkey. And it goes on like that. Things happens because they happen, not because it makes a coherent story or it fits the characters.

The anime-style animation is no help. Some of the basic design work isn’t bad, though it is used poorly. At times Batman Ninja is less of an animated movie and more a motion comic. Actually hand-drawing the frames might have helped, instead of what they did, which was doing some shading on computer graphics. Here and there I could see the potential—usually in those too-often still moments—that is never fulfilled. As a whole, it is ugly.

Batman Ninja isn’t a waste of time. It is so much worse. Want to keep kids away from comics? Show them this.

 Reviews, Superhero Tagged with:
Apr 272018
2.5 reels

The 19th MCU film finally brings Thanos (Josh Brolin) front and center. The Mad Titan sets out to collect the six infinity stones—the most powerful items in the universe—which will allow him to carry out his fiendish plan. Five of those gems have appeared in previous MCU films and two still remain on Earth, which is going to bring him into conflict with The Avengers, The Guardians of the Galaxy, and just about everyone in those previous 18 films (which is way too many actors to list here).

I consider myself a fan of the MCU movies and think each one is good. But Avengers: Infinity War is not a movie. It is half a movie. And I don’t mean it is incomplete the way Star Wars flicks are, but the way Lord of the Rings films are. Watching Infinity War is like watching The Two Towers without knowing anything about The Return of the King. The audience audibly moaned when the credits popped up.

Except it is worse.

Why? Because Infinity War is about gathering six magic stones, one of which can rewrite reality, and another can rewind time. That means until we are done, absolutely nothing is determined, and we are not done. Did a battle happen? Maybe. Maybe not. Did a character die? Maybe. Maybe not. No decision, no action, and no result are permanent. Nothing that happened in 149 minutes is set, and more than that, you will know for certain that at least part of this film will be undone. So nothing means anything and nothing has weight.

So, is Avengers: Infinity War good? I don’ know. And I won’t know until the untitled Infinity War Part 2 comes out next year. The best that I can say is that it is generally a lot of fun while watching. The action is well choreographed and there’s a lot of it. There are many funny moments (particularly with Thor), and the character interactions are enjoyable. So as a theme park ride, I recommend it. As an artistic creation, I’ll tell you later.

This is the most “comic book” of the MCU films: everything is bright and shiny and fast. There’s no time spent on slow development or movement or anything that isn’t part of the larger racing story. Characters say they should go to Place-B; next time they pop up on screen they are in Place-B. Multiple romantic relationships are presented as fait accompli. There is easily six hours more of this movie that we don’t see, containing what happened between the scenes. I’d have liked some of that, but I admit this way, it isn’t boring. A couple characters make some silly decisions clearly just to move along the plot—far too clearly as they aren’t hidden under explosions and punches—but those are minor problems (for now, until I find out what is real). The only thing that took me out of the film was a lack of nudity. Yes, I can accept super magic rocks but I cannot accept that Thor’s clothing doesn’t burn.

I felt cheated at the end. I rushed out to see Infinity War to avoid spoilers without knowing that it couldn’t be spoiled as nothing really happens. It would have been far better to wait a year and watch it all together.

[Update after Avengers: Endgame] Well, that was no help. Endgame did not correct any of the flaws of Infinity War, except it did finish the story. Generally, it made things worse. Multiple previous MCU movies were twisted around, having their character development or message reversed or ignored in Infinity War, and Endgame doubled down on that. The combined two part movie is lackluster and a weak finale to the original Avengers. The uncertain moments in Infinity War led to nothing of interest in Endgame. Finally, this franchise looks less like refreshing, exciting, fantasy pop art, and more like the giant ticking machine run by a mega-corporation that it is. Endgame, and thus, Infinity War, cannot even masquerade as being made for art or to tell a story. They were made to make money. Sure, movies generally are, but it’s nice if that’s a little less obvious, or at least if there is some secondary motivation visible.

Now with both finished, I rate Infinity War at 2½-Reels, and only that high because it is a film that loses too much when taken to a smaller screen. If you haven’t seen it, chances are you won’t be able to in a theater, in which case, think of it more of a 2-Reel film, i.e. good enough for free TV, but not something worth buying.

Apr 162018
3,5 reels

Amanda Waller (Vanessa Williams) reactivates the Suicide Squad, this time with Deadshot (Christian Slater), Harley Quinn (Tara Strong), Captain Boomerang (Liam McIntyre), Killer Frost (Kristen Bauer van Stratten), Bronze Tiger (Billy Brown), and Copperhead (Gideon Emery), to retrieve a magical device. It is of immediate importance to her, as well as to several major villains, and could be useful later to most every criminal alive. The team sets out in an RV, following clues to the object while fighting two teams of even greater deviants who are also searching for it. Should they fail, Waller will set off the explosives she’s placed in their skulls. To succeed they are going to have to kill a lot of people, but then, that’s what they like to do. [And that’s all I’m saying. Most reviewers are giving out spoilers, including what the squad is going after, why, and specifically who they meet, all of which is better left unknown.]

Who’d have thought DC could get tone right? The previous attempts at Suicide Squad movies (Batman: Assault on Arkham and Suicide Squad) had some good points, but failed in important ways. What was needed was a lack of restraint. If you are going to make a film about villains being forced by a villain to fight other villains, then you need to wallow in it. Forget juvenile comic book morality as well as redemption arcs and heroics. Everyone involved is sick and twisted, so let them show that off in all its grunge-tainted glory. And that’s exactly what we get. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is exploitation gold (or pyrite as gold is not the target) and a schlocky good time.

It starts with music straight out of Rodriguez & Tarantino’s Grindhouse (along with faux scratches in the film in case you missed the idea) and that sets the right tone. The whole film feels like what you’d get if those two filmmakers made a DC flick—and now I really want them too. This is gory, violent fun, pure and simple. It’s just about taking a road trip with some disturbed people as they run into even more disturbed people. And there’s none of the normal comics purity to get in the way. People die. Lots and lots of people. And they bleed. If this was live action it would earn its R-Rating. As animation, and not particularly good animation (though not bad enough to be annoying), it should have been given a PG13 as the gore is not going to upset anyone. But if you describe the decapitations and impalings, you can see where the R came from. And While Hell to Pay leans into violence more than sex, at least it doesn’t feel prudish. There’s also a lot of humor, so somebody learned their lesson about dark things not needing to be dour.

This is the busiest film yet from DC Animation. A lot happens, but it isn’t rushed. There’s a large cast of characters, all with their own personalities, motivations, and ticks, multiple battles, intertwined story lines, a great deal of movement, and even non-violent character interactions, and it fits together nicely. The trick was giving us only what we need. There’s no long character introductions (or the three intros we got for each of the major players in the live action Suicide Squad) or pointless conversations. There’s no fat.

While a return to form for DC Animated Films, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay isn’t flawless. Two issues drag it down. The first is common to all DC team-ups: They can’t work out the power levels. Since some characters are massively stronger than others, the only way battles can work is if the most powerful characters act stupidly. Notice how Superman had to be otherwise engaged, or dead, during most of Justice League so there was some point to Aquaman being around to punch things. It is a tricky problem, so these filmmakers, as always, took the easy way out. To get Harley into the fray with her baseball bat, Deadshot has to pause before shooting and Killer Frost has to do nothing half the time. There’s no way Harley would get a chance to do anything if Frost just froze everyone, so she doesn’t. And this is far too noticeable.

The other major issue appears with all Suicide Squad appearances: They aren’t an interesting group. Captain Boomerang is tedious (in the comics and movies) and this incarnation’s noble bad guy— Bronze Tiger—barely counts as a character. He’s a martial artist. Wow. Harley can be fun, and for this grouping Copperhead and Killer Frost are fine in supporting roles, but the others are drab, making the team drab. The biggest problem, as always, is Deadshot. He may be the least interesting character DC ever created. I don’t care about his daughter fixation and “he shoots good” is not special in a world of gods and monsters. DC keeps wanting to turn him into an anti-hero that we care about (see the live action Suicide Squad) and that doesn’t hold up. But since he is so dull, he’s easy to write for (making a coherent plot for Harley would be difficult as she has no interest in acting coherently). So we get a lot of Deadshot, and I never want a lot of Deadshot. If they’d dropped him (and Boomerang and Tiger) and slotted in a few more colorful villains, it would have been more fun.

But they used who they used, and with this crew, they did very well. When considering the overall quality, my rating is a bit generous, but I’m concerned with if you should see the film, and the answer is that you should.

 Reviews, Superhero Tagged with:
Apr 072018
one reel

Forty years after Michael Myers went on his one and only killing spree, a pair of stereotypically douchie podcasters get access in Michael in the asylum he’s been locked up in all this time. Because we know it is a stupid thing to do, they bring with them his mask. Soon after, the bus transferring Michael crashes and he escapes to randomly run into those podcasters. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who is mentioned to NOT be Michael’s sister, has turned into an angry prepper. She’s estranged from her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) because of her combat-training version of motherhood and has a difficult relationship with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). Allyson’s father is awkward and her boyfriend is a jerk and this and that that don’t matter but fill up about 30 minutes of screen time. Eventually Michael starts killing people, most of whom don’t have any relation to the plot, but also a babysitter who happens to be Allyson’s best friend as the universe thrives on coincidences. Naturally this leads to a battle between the Strodes and Michael.

Can I call it a major flaw of Halloween 2018 that it is a sleazy cash-grab when Halloween II, 4, 5, 6, H20, and Resurrection, along with the unnecessary Rob Zombie remakes, are already clearly sleazy cash-grabs, and the original was sold as “Murderer stalks teen babysitters”? It isn’t as if the whole franchise isn’t a sleazy cash-grab, but it stands out so in this case. Perhaps if writer/director David Gordon Green and his co-writers Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride had anything to say about middle-aged PTSD Laurie Strode, the cash-grab nature wouldn’t stand out so. Maybe if they hadn’t already made a sequel where they brought back Curtis as a troubled Laurie and ignored most of the previous sequels, but that was H2O. Maybe if this film didn’t make constant references to the sequels that are no longer cannon (though I found those the most amusing part of the film). Though really, it was always going to appear to be a sleazy cash-grab because that’s what it is.

This film has nothing to say and little to do. It just had a bigger advertising budget. I’d have thought it might have gone the feminist empowerment route, but nope. In fact it is shockingly weak there. With 40 years to prepare, shouldn’t Laurie be more prepared, or more badass. Sarah Connor she’s not. OK, so if the film isn’t going that direction, then it could go into realistic territory and delve into trauma. But nope, there’s only lip service—lots and lots of lip service. At least they could have chosen one of the female characters to be the lead instead of flopping around between them. Hell, you pay for Jamie Lee Curtis, you stick with Jamie Lee Curtis.

I wonder if it might have been better to leave out the theme music. That music is so good, and the rendition in this score so well rendered, that it makes the film’s lacking in every other way so much more obvious. Every time that music starts for the briefest moment if feels like Halloween might be something. And then it isn’t.

The other films in the franchise are Halloween (1978), Halloween 2 (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5 (1989), Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (2002), and the remakes Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009).